The native vegetation has been considerably altered by human activity such that the original laurel forest covers only 2% of the islands. It has been cleared for pasture and / or forested with the exotic Japanese Red Cedar Cryptomeria japonica and the remaining fragments have been invaded by aggressive exotic plants: Pittosporum undulatum, Hedychium gardneranum and Clethra arborea. This has been particularly serious for Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula (pyrrhula) murina which is now considered Critically Endangered.
In 1995, the local forestry service initiated a programme with European Union (EU) funding in an attempt to restore and expand the area of laurel forest and increase and maintain a viable population of Azores Bullfinch. The laurel forest around the Pico da Vara summit, the stronghold of Azores Bullfinch has been designated a Natural Forest Reserve by the Regional Government of the Azores. It was also designated a Special Protection Area by the Azorean Government under the EU Wild Birds Directive.
There are a number of issues relating to coastal sites which support the seabird colonies including recreational use, introduced ground predators, invasion by densely rooted exotic plants, such as Cane Grass Arundo donax which results in the loss of suitable burrowing ground and the introduction of domestic animals.
20th March 2008: Europe's rarest finch finds favour
Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina has become the latest Critically Endangered species to find a Champion through the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. Birdwatch magazine has stepped forward to provide vital funds for the work of the Species Guardian, SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal).
Much work has already been done for this species with significant funding to SPEA through the EU Life Fund, but this is coming to an end. With so much already achieved Birdwatch’s decision has provided a timely intervention for conservation work to help Azores Bullfinch.
“It is fantastic news that Birdwatch has joined the Preventing Extinctions Programme and has become one of a growing number of Species Champions”, said Jim Lawrence, the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Development Manager.
Azores Bullfinch, known locally as Priolo, is confined to eastern São Miguel in the Azores, Portugal. It has suffered through widespread loss of native forest and invasion by exotic vegetation, which has largely overrun the remaining patches of natural vegetation within the species's breeding range. These funds will enable the continuation of crucial habitat restoration work to increase the core range of this species. The exact number of bullfinches is unclear. In the 1990s the population was estimated at 200-300 individuals. However, surveys since 2002 have indicated a rise to around 340 individuals, a sign that habitat restoration is already having an effect.
Already described as the biggest and most wide-ranging bird conservation programme the world has ever seen, BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme aims to save all 189 Critically Endangered birds, by finding ‘Species Champions’ who will fund the work of identified ‘Species Guardians’ for each bird - organisations and people best placed to carry out the conservation work necessary to prevent an otherwise certain extinction.
If you would like to help Birdwatch support Azores Bullfinch visit their online donation site at www.justgiving.com/priolo
Source: BirdLife International